The D(i)S(ney)LR Series: Shooting Daytime Parades
It's time to dive into specific shooting scenarios in the parks. Let's start "easy" with daytime parades (currently that would mean Move It Shake It or Festival of Fantasy at Magic Kingdom, but this approach can apply to any daytime parade including Easter Preparade and Holiday Daily Ops). I say "easy," because there are a lot of different ways you can shoot this parade, a lot of different locations to shoot from, and usually there is more than enough sunlight for exposure.
Where to Shoot
Move It Shake It starts in Town Square, goes up Main Street, and spends most of its time in the hub. If you want fun shots of the parade stopped and the performers running around and engaging with the crowd, then the hub is the place to be. If you want the parade as it's moving, you can be anywhere on the parade route. Festival of Fantasy starts in Frontierland (to the left of Splash Mountain, also known as "step off", and ENDS in Town Square (the gate is next to car barn).
When choosing where to shoot a parade, you should pay attention to the direction of the sun. Depending on the time of day, you usually DON'T want to have the sun BEHIND the parade (or having to point your camera into the direction of the sun). Backlighting (strong light source behind your subject) makes for MUCH harder editing, unreliable meter readings, overexposed backgrounds, and just generally less desirable photo results. All that being said; you CAN make it work. In addition to the sun's direction, pay attention to the potential backdrop/backgrounds for the photos you'll take. Do you want Main Street USA buildings, or trees and sky?
I don't have one particular spot to recommend, as my location for parade is generally dependent on where I happen to be able to get to with the least amount of waiting (I generally have a small child and stroller in tow, and I don't stake out parade locations an hour ahead of time). It's always fun to shoot down main street from the top of the train station (if you can get the spot, it's often roped off for VIP viewing, Boo) or from the center island of Town Square shooting up Main Street (although there are a lot of shadows you have to work around from the buildings, that can be challenging). You can also do the famous "double dip" and shoot the parade at step off in Frontierland, then haul tushy down to Town Square to catch it at the end as well. Mix it up, experiment with different locations, find what works for you (don't worry, Ado, I'm not calling out your super secret spot).
Telephoto zoom used to shoot from on top of the Train Station in Town Square.
What to Shoot With
Again, it's dependent on location, BUT if you're up on top of train station, you would probably be happiest with a telephoto zoom (I've shot it on a 70-200mm as well as my 28-300mm and generally spent most of my time on a long focal length). If you're down on the ground, I find myself happiest when I have a wide option zoom. If you're only trying to shoot the performers up on the floats, then you're fine with a longer zoom. But if you're trying to catch the performers down on the street? Or get photos of entire floats? You will miss having the wide option. If you don't have a lens with a range like the 28-300 which really offers you the best of both worlds, I'd say you'd be better off shooting on a wider zoom (18-55mm) and cropping in. Again, what do YOU want to shoot, choose accordingly. I DON'T recommend shooting parades on prime lenses (it's very limiting), and with the sun blazing there is ZERO need for an aperture larger than a 5.6.
You can learn more about mastering exposure here, but I have a few general defaults or starting point camera settings I'm happy to share with you. STARTING points, because something as simple as the sun going behind a cloud will change stuff.
Aperture- I usually go for an f8 or somewhere around there, but if you're trying to get shallow depth of field shots with a wider aperture, you're going to NEED ND filters (like sunglasses for your lens). The f8 is a very manageable Depth of Field. Something to keep in mind is that if your lens has a variable fstop range at it's largest aperture (for example my 28-300 is 3.5 at 28 but 5.6 at 300), make sure you've set your f stop to a place where it WON'T be changing as you zoom in and out (in other words, on that lens, a 5.6 or smaller aperture).
ISO- Depending on overall light levels and your location and what sort of motion blur you're after with shutter speed, your ISO for parade might be anywhere between 200 and 1000. I generally have mine around 640-800. The lower your ISO is, the less flexibility you will have with your shutter speed and higher likelihood you'll slip into shots with motion blur (and since your subjects are MOVING, you don't generally want that!).
Shutter Speed- This is the setting I change on the fly to compensate for moment to moment changes in light levels, etc. (watching my meter). Once you've chosen your aperture and ISO, point your camera into the area you'll be shooting and use your meter to choose your shutter speed. TAKE TEST SHOTS. LOOK AT THEM. Your meter is only checking the overall light level of the frame, but you're probably looking to expose for a human subject, so take a few test shots until you're reasonably close to what you're after. THIS IS NOT A SET IT AND FORGET IT MOMENT. While I'm shooting the parade, I'm always keeping an eye on my meter and checking my shots periodically. You really want to keep your shutter speed faster than 1/400 to keep up with the speed at which the parade is moving.
Your Depth of Field and motion blur will be determined by your aperture and shutter speed, respectively. IF your lens has image stabilization (VR on Nikkor), I'd definitely recommend it for parade (you may not NEED it, but it can save your butt if you aren't paying attention and accidentally slip down to a slower shutter speed). Keep an eye in your viewfinder on WHERE your camera is focusing. Autofocus can very easily go all over the place with lots of moving subjects, so be quick and decisive. If you're having trouble getting the focus where you want, you can quickly center where you want your focus in your viewfinder, get the focus where you want it, then hold the focus lock and reframe. Make sure you shoot quickly: since the subjects are moving, the focus won't be accurate any longer than a few seconds.
Aesthetics when it comes to parade will have everything to do with how you want to play with focal length and field of view on your shots (also having the right lens will influence this). My personal tastes are to SHOOT ALL THE THINGS WITH ALL THE PERSPECTIVES, so looking through a library of a single parade you'll see my focal lengths the full gamut from 28-300mm. Be mindful of your surroundings, and how you fill your frame. Take the shots below from the same parade viewing; one was a tosser and one was a keeper...
HAVE FUN! If you aren't enjoying shooting, you won't keep doing it.